Majority of Pundits Are Picking Ravens Over Browns
Popular opinion heading into this season was that the Ravens and Cleveland Browns would battle each other for the AFC North crown.
Through 11 weeks, however, every team in the division has a winning record and just 1.5 games separate the first-place Ravens (7-3) from the last-place Browns (6-5).
Beginning with Sunday night's home game against the Browns, the Ravens play five of their remaining seven games against AFC North opponents. Baltimore has road games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Browns the next two weeks.
Despite sitting atop the division, the Ravens are the only team without a divisional win. They lost their lone AFC North game this season to the Cincinnati Bengals at home and need to beat the Browns to ensure they remain in first place. The Bengals (6-4) host the Steelers (5-4-1) on Sunday.
While the Ravens have overcome a ridiculous amount of injuries to key players to hold the No. 2 seed in the AFC, Cleveland — which has had its share of injuries as well, including to quarterback Baker Mayfield, who is battling shoulder, knee and foot injuries — has underachieved.
The Browns, who are coming off a 13-10 victory over the winless Detroit Lions last week, have not won consecutive games since winning three straight from Sept. 19 to Oct. 3.
The majority of the pundits we looked at (44 of 49) are picking the Ravens to beat the Browns.
The five who picked the Browns are The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer, NFL Network's Adam Rank and Mark Dulgerian, CBS Sports' Will Brinson, and Chris Simms of NBC Sports and Pro Football Talk.
Here's a sample of what the pundits are saying about the game:
If Lamar Jackson is fully healthy after missing last week's game due to illness —he said earlier this week that there's a "120 percent chance" he'll play Sunday night —he'll lead the Ravens to a victory.
The Baltimore Sun's C.J. Doon: "With health concerns surrounding both starting quarterbacks, this is a tough one to predict. But if Lamar Jackson is back to full strength, he'll be happy to see the Browns on the schedule. Jackson is 4-1 as the starting quarterback against Cleveland, with 10 touchdown passes and four rushing touchdowns in those games. I'm more confident in Jackson bouncing back from his illness than Baker Mayfield playing through knee, heel and shoulder injuries, no matter how tough they say the Browns starter is. The Ravens will have a hard time blocking Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney, but a healthy Jackson will be the difference-maker Sunday night."
Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith: "Lamar Jackson is expected back and the Ravens should have a big win against a Browns team that has not been impressive of late."
Sporting News' Vinny Iyer: "The Ravens get the win with more late Jackson heroics, but it doesn't come easy."
The Browns' running attack will be a problem for the Ravens.
NBC Sports' Chris Simms: "I don't think it's a great Ravens defense. I think they're going to have issues stopping the Browns run game. We've seen the Browns move the ball on the Ravens both games last year. The Ravens defense was better last year than they are this year. Because I think the Ravens will have to commit and be so worried about stopping the run … I think they'll make a handful of plays in the pass game."
The Browns running attack won't be a problem for the Ravens.
The New York Times' Emmanuel Morgan: "Running back Kareem Hunt is hopeful to play for the first time since he injured his calf in October. Baltimore has allowed the second-fewest rushing yards, though, and could contain even a backfield as dynamic as Hunt and Nick Chubb."
Are the Ravens due to be on the losing end of a close game?
Shaffer: "At some point, the Ravens' success in nail-biters will start to even out. Sunday's game could be one of those games."
The Ravens will try to take away WR Jarvis Landry, so the Browns will need another receiver to step up.
NBC Sports' Cris Collinsworth: "It's up to Baker to really come up with that next option. Maybe it's Austin Hooper, maybe it's [David] Njoku. I'm not positive who it's going to be, but somebody really needs to establish themselves as that No. 2."
Will the Ravens' blitzes pay off or prove costly?
NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal: "The Ravens have the most clearly defined weakness that I can remember any team of recent Ravens vintage having: They simply can't cover on the outside when Wink Martindale blitzes. This is a weakness that this version of the Browns is ill-equipped to attack, although you would have thought that about Andy Dalton and Marquise Goodwin a week ago, too."
Mark Andrews should dominate the Browns over the middle.
Next Gen Stats: "In his last four games against the Browns, [Andrews] has notched 11 receptions for 164 yards when targeted in that area of the field, and five of his NFL-leading 10 touchdowns on targets over the middle since 2019 have come in those games. … Exploiting this vulnerability in the Browns defense could be a key to a 'W'' in this division rivalry."
|News Source||Projected Winner||Commentary|
|ESPN||9 of 9 panelists pick Ravens||NA|
|Baltimore Sun||4 of 5 panelists pick Ravens||“The Ravens will have a hard time blocking Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney, but a healthy Jackson will be the difference-maker Sunday night.” — C.J. Doon|
|USA Today||7 of 7 panelists pick Ravens||NA|
|NFL.com||Ravens 27, Browns 20||“The potential return of Kareem Hunt gives the Browns a chance, but the quarterback disparity is too great, assuming Lamar Jackson is back.” — Gregg Rosenthal|
|NFL Network||9 of 10 panelists pick Ravens||NA|
|Sporting News||Ravens 24, Browns 21||“The Ravens get the win with more late Jackson heroics, but it doesn't come easy.” — Vinnie Iyer|
|CBS Sports||7 of 8 panelists pick Ravens||“The Ravens will get the offense cranked up with Jackson back, but I think the Browns will as well with their run game. It's close.” — Pete Prisco|
|Pro Football Talk||2 of 3 panelists pick Ravens||“Lamar Jackson is expected back and the Ravens should have a big win against a Browns team that has not been impressive of late.” — Michael David Smith|
|Sports Illustrated||3 of 4 panelists pick Ravens||NA|
|Fansided||Ravens 24, Browns 20||“Why should anybody believe Baker Mayfield is winning this game? Credit to him for playing through injuries, but he looks pedestrian, to be kind.” — Matt Verderame|
Are Ravens Headed for Defensive Makeover in Offseason?
In what has been one of the most bizarre NFL seasons in recent memory, perhaps it's fitting that the Ravens defense, which is usually among the best in the league, ranks 25th overall and 31st against the pass.
On the positive side, the Ravens are No. 1 in third-down defense and red-zone defense and No. 2 against the run. However, the defense has frequently been hurt by big plays due in large part to poor tackling and communication issues.
The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec said the Ravens are headed for a defensive makeover this offseason even if the unit plays better the rest of the way.
"Changes have to be made at every level defensively, and the Ravens need to get younger, faster and more dynamic," Zrebiec wrote.
Two areas Zrebiec feels they will have to address are the defensive interior and outside linebacker.
"On the defensive interior, [Calais] Campbell, [Brandon] Williams and [Justin] Ellis are all pending free agents, and the sense around the team is Campbell, a franchise favorite, will strongly consider retiring this offseason," Zrebiec wrote. "[Derek] Wolfe still has two years left on his deal, but the Ravens would have to feel good about where he's at physically for him to be back. At the very least, the Ravens will need to add at least two interior defensive linemen this offseason to join [Justin] Madubuike. The younger, the better.
"At outside linebacker, [Pernell] McPhee and Justin Houston are pending free agents, and there are no assurances that [Jaylon] Ferguson, who hasn't made a defensive impact, will be back either. Rookie first-round pick Odafe Oweh has a bright future and [Tyus] Bowser's versatility is important, but the Ravens badly need one or two high-impact pass rushers off the edge."
Jeff Saturday Says Ravens Are AFC's Best, But Bart Scott Disagrees
With a congested AFC playoff picture, there's no consensus as to who is the best team in the conference.
Analyst Jeff Saturday said on ESPN's "Get Up" that the Ravens are the team he trusts the most in the AFC.
"[Tyler] Huntley won one last week for them. They continue to find ways with Lamar Jackson trying to get healthy," Saturday said. "It's always hard for me to go against [John Harbaugh] and against [Steelers Head Coach] Mike Tomlin. Those two coaches always seem to find ways for their teams to win."
Former Ravens linebacker Bart Scott disagreed. He said the Indianapolis Colts, Saturday's former team, are the AFC's best.
"I can trust the Colts on both sides of the ball. They've got elite players on both sides," Scott said. "The Ravens can't stop anybody on the defensive side. They can't get a pass rush. And I'm concerned that the loss of Marcus Peters may be to their detriment."